Australia and circumcision
Australia, like other English-speaking countries, once had a rather high rate of non-therapeutic neonatal circumcision of male infants, however Australia (2019) now has a very low rate of non-therapeutic neonatal circumcision. Consequently, the circumcised males are concentrated in the older age groups. As they pass away and are replaced by younger intact males, the prevalence of circumcised men is diminishing. Circumcised males are now in the minority in Australia and have been at least since 2011.
The incidence of non-therapeutic neonatal circumcision in Australia approached that of the United States in the 1930s through 1960s.
Douglas Gairdner's famous, classic 1949 paper, The Fate of the Foreskin: A Study of Circumcision, seems to have had no effect in Australia. However, criticism of the practice of non-therapeutic circumcision accelerated in 1967.
Morgan (1967) criticised non-therapeutic circumcision in a letter published in the Medical Journal of Australia.
Wright (1967) slammed the practice of non-therapeutic circumcision.
Position statements of medical societies
After considering the three papers published in the Australian Paediatric Journal, the Australian Paediatric Society adopted a resolution on April 24, 1971 that the circumcision of male infants should not be performed as a routine measure. That resolution subsequently was reported in a letter by Belmaine published in the Medical Journal of Australia on May 22, 1971.
The incidence of non-therapeutic child circumcision in Australia started to decline after the publication of the Belmaine (1971) letter. By 1978, only 50 percent of newborn boys were being circumcised.
The incidence of circumcision continued to decline, so that by 1996, when the Australian College of Paediatrics issued a statement, it reported that the incidence of "routine" (i.e. non-therapeutic) circumcision was estimated at ten percent of newborn boys.
Non-therapeutic circumcision and Australian law
Australia is a state-party to the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) and to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), both of which provide various human rights to children, which are violated by non-therapeutic child circumcision.
The legality of non-therapeutic circumcision of boys has been considered several times.
The Queensland Law Reform Commission (1993) researched the legality of non-therapeutic circumcision of children. The Commission concluded:
The common law operating in Queensland appears to be that if the young person is unable, through lack of maturity or other disability, to give effective consent to a proposed procedure and if the nature of the proposed treatment is invasive, irreversible and major surgery and for non-therapeutic purposes, then court approval is required before such treatment can proceed. The court will not approve the treatment unless it is necessary and in the young person's best interests. The basis of this attitude is the respect which must be paid to an individual's bodily integrity.
Richards (1996) discussed non-therapeutic circumcision of boys. He concluded:
Ritual male circumcision is non-therapeutic and is not warranted or justified by medical evidence. This form of mutilation should not be legally distinguished from female circumcision which is a form of female genital mutilation presently in the process of being prohibited throughout Australia and the Western world. As ritual male circumcision is non-therapeutic, may be against public policy, and clearly is not in the best interests of the child, a parent's consent may be vitiated, leaving persons involved in the procedure liable in negligence, notwithstanding parental religious beliefs. Alternatively, if a medical practitioner fails to give the parent reasonable information on the risks of and alternatives to ritual circumcision, the practitioner may also be liable in negligence.
Boyle et al. (2000) suggested that non-therapeutic circumcision of boys is "criminal assault." They concluded:
Enforced non-therapeutic genital cutting of unconsenting minors is overdue for recognition by the legal community as sexual mutilation. As we enter the 21st Century, appropriate legal action must be taken to safeguard the physical genital integrity of male children.
Grace Gunn (2019) argues that non-therapeutic circumcision of boys should be prohibited in New South Wales.
Despite the criticism in the above referenced papers, there has been no legislative or judicial action to protect boys in Australia from medically-unnecessary non-therapeutic circumcision.
Circumcision in the 21st Century
The Sixth International Symposium on Genital Integrity convened in Wesley College at the University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia on December 7-9, 2000. Professor Gregory J. Boyle gave the keynote address.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported on the decline in non-therapeutic circumcision of boys in Australia early in the 21st Century.
The Australian College of Paediatrics was merged into the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), which has issued a statement on non-therapeutic child circumcision. The statement (2010) states:
After reviewing the currently available evidence, the RACP believes that the frequency of diseases modifiable by circumcision, the level of protection offered by circumcision and the complication rates of circumcision do not warrant routine infant circumcision in Australia and New Zealand. However it is reasonable for parents to weigh the benefits and risks of circumcision and to make the decision whether or not to circumcise their sons.
But the statement also says:
The option of leaving circumcision until later, when the boy is old enough to make a decision for himself does need to be raised with parents and considered. This option has recently been recommended by the Royal Dutch Medical Association. The ethical merit of this option is that it seeks to respect the child’s physical integrity, and capacity for autonomy by leaving the options open for him to make his own autonomous choice in the future.
Darby (2011) collected circumcision statistics from the various Australian states and territories. Darby reported a high rate of 17.3 percent in New South Wales in 2010 and a low of 1.5 percent in Tasmania in the same year. Other states fell in between.
Na et al. (2015) considered whether Australian boys should be circumcised. They concluded:
In conclusion, although there is a benefit of circumcision in those with urogenital tract anomalies, in a healthy newborn,the disease in the foreskin is non-existent. There is insufficient scientific evidence to support routine newborn circumcision in Australia done for UTI risk and HIV transmission issues alone. Therefore, any surgical complication and financial cost of routine newborn circumcision for these reasons in Australia currently cannot be justified. From a medical point of view, the‘price’ is still too high.
Oddly enough, The federal Medicare programme still pays an inadequate third-party payment of AU$35.45 for non-therapeutic circumcision. This subsidy exists for political reasons, not medical reasons.
Continuing decline in practice of non-therapeutic circumcision
Na, Tanny & Hutson (2015) discussed the matter of non-therapeutic circumcision of children in Australia. They concluded:
There is insufficient scientific evidence to support routine newborn circumcision in Australia done for UTI risk and HIV transmission issues alone. Therefore, any surgical complication and financial cost of routine newborn circumcision for these reasons in Australia currently cannot be justified. From a medical point of view, the ‘price’ is still too high.
The incidence of non-therapeutic circumcision of children in Australia has continued to diminish. Circumcision Information Australia (2017) reported an incidence of infant circumcision of 9.66 percent in fiscal 2015. The majority of living Australian males are intact. The percentage of living intact males increases year-by-year.
Circumcision Information Australia (CIA) (2018) reports:
According to a report on SBS, Australia’s circumcision rate has fallen by over two thirds over the past decade. According to Medicare figures, there were only 6,309 boys (under 6 months) circumcised in the 2016/17 financial year, compared with 19,663 in 2007/08. SBS quotes Professor Paul Colditz, head of the Paediatrics and Child Health Division of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, as saying that only about 4 per cent of baby boys are being circumcised these days, “so I guess parents are really making up their own minds on the basis of the available evidence.” He added that there could be some procedures not captured by the Medicare data if performed by religious figures such as Mohels, but that would be a fairly small number in relation to the 6000 or so babies circumcised in the past year. Professor Colditz attributed the sharp decline to two main factors - better informed parents and more fathers not being circumcised themselves. The number of new fathers (many born in the 1980s and early 90s) who were themselves not circumcised is increasing, and they are deciding that there is no reason why they should circumcise their own sons. Parents were also making up their own minds by researching available evidence. “We've entered an era where everyone is looking at the evidence and asking, ‘Is this operation worthwhile, will it be effective, what are the risks?'" Professor Colditz said. Parents are assessing the balance between the potential for any benefits against the potential for harm and damage. “I think the whole of society is getting more sophisticated in the way they do this.”
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